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TPM Interviewing Basics

Interviewing can feel overwhelming and nerve wracking. It can feel difficult especially because the topmost companies have less than five percent acceptance rate. That means less than 5 candidates out of a total of 100 interviewed, get an offer. Getting into a top company of your choice is a high stakes situation for you. It can mean the difference between financial freedom and constant struggle.

Let me tell you - Interviewing does not have to be so mind numbing. With the right preparation and understanding of what’s needed, you can nail any interview. I wrote a series of posts to demystify TPM responsibilities (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). If you haven't read that, I encourage you to read it first. In that series, I took a real TPM job description and broke down the requirements into three main categories. I drilled deeper into each requirement to bring out nuanced expectations of the TPM role. These posts will help you frame your work in a manner that will create strong examples for interview questions.

Let’s recap the high level overview of the TPM interviewing framework. Most companies have 1-2 screens (after the initial recruiter call) followed by 4-5 onsite/virtual interviews (full loop). The initial screen when conducted by the hiring manager is a general assessment of all skills to get a signal on whether you can pass the onsite loop. Sometimes, companies will conduct a technical screen in the first round itself.

You can expect your interviews to cover the following areas:

  • Technical Domain Expertise: To determine your technical depth in a familiar domain.

  • Technical Judgment: To assess your critical thinking and ability to apply technical fundamentals to a brand new domain. This is also known as the System Design interview.

  • Program Management: To assess your understanding of basic program management fundamentals - program management phases, program planning, kickoff, execution and communication.

  • Leadership: To assess your ability to influence others without authority (especially important for TPMs), manage stakeholders effectively, be proactive and take ownership and so on.

  • Partnership: To see how you collaborate with others, resolve conflicts and motivate teams.

  • Behavioral: To assess if you are a cultural fit for the team and company. There are a variety of questions that seek to understand your values and how you work especially under high pressure and high stakes situations.

For people manager roles, there is an interview to assess your ability to build a high performance team, hire and retain talent and design effective organization structure. This can be a separate interview or combined with Leadership.

Every interview is testing for multiple competencies to give the hiring manager a 360 view of the candidate. Your answers provide clues to the hiring manager on two things - first whether they should hire you and second at what level. In short, your interview performance determines the level and compensation. Needless to say, if you do well in every interview, you are more likely to get a higher total compensation package and the upper hand in any negotiation.

You will find many resources out there to prepare for an interview. In this post, I wanted to share some tips with a focus on the more nuanced aspects of interviewing. These tips will elevate your overall interviewing skills. Coming across as a confident interviewee is just as important as knowing all the answers. When your interview goes from good to great, it means that a hiring manager is more likely to go with you. These tips are categorized into three stages.

Before the Interview

  • Research extensively: As soon as you get the first response from the recruiter to set up a call, you need to start researching the company and the role. Read about the company’s mission, vision, values, products, blogs etc. Read articles posted by company leaders to get a sense of their culture. Talk to someone at the company to get an inside peek.

  • Prepare intensively: Interviewing is all about delivering your knowledge with confidence. Preparing strong examples for each competency aligned to your desired role is better than winging it.

    • Utilize the R-STAR format to remember and frame your answer clearly. The R-STAR is essentially quickly stating the results you achieved before diving into what and how. Think of it like knowing your destination before you start with the directions.

    • Perfect the “Tell me about yourself” pitch to make the best first impression. This pitch should not be more than three minutes.

    • Incorporate the company’s cultural values into your answers.

    • Don’t use too many buzzwords or jargon.

    • Always set the context but be succinct.

  • Practice makes perfect: This goes without saying but the more you practice aloud, the better you will perform at the actual interview. Practice in front of a mirror, video record yourself, volunteer a friend or hire a professional.

During the Interview

  • Forget the video screen: Most interviews these days are virtual and it can sometimes feel like a disconnected experience. Just ignore the computer screen and focus on your interviewer so you can connect with them. Keep all distractions away so you are fully immersed. Make eye contact as much as possible. And don’t try to peek at a cheat sheet - interviewers can tell that you are reading off another screen or paper.

  • Show passion and excitement: It helps set the right tone and connect with the interviewer.

  • Be authentic and natural: Interviewers expect that candidates have prepared but it doesn’t mean you should blurt out a memorized answer monotonously. Your answers need to have a natural flow and sincerity to avoid the perception of being fake.

  • Listen carefully: There have been so many occasions when I have seen candidates give a tangential answer to my questions because that’s how they prepared it. Listen carefully to the entire question before you start answering.

  • Analyze the question: What competency or ability is the question trying to surface. Categorizing the questions in conjunction with your preparation will create a mind-map for you. Then you can quickly access the best example to answer the question.

  • Ask clarifying questions: If you didn’t understand the question or need more information, ask your interviewer to clarify. It is best not to make assumptions. It also showcases your problem solving abilities.

  • Bring it into perspective: Understand each type of interview and frame your mind accordingly. You may get asked the same questions in different interviews but you need to adapt the answer based on the theme of each interview.

  • Answer with intent: Take a pause before you blurt out the answer. You can even ask for 30 seconds to gather your thoughts. This way, if the question is slightly twisted, you can adapt a prepared example to answer it. Talk through your answer, especially in problem solving questions where there is no right answer.

  • Focus on your impact: It is important to balance “I” vs “We” to demonstrate the role you played and your own impact and where you collaborated with your team. Just focusing on “We” comes across as not being proactive and just using “I” equates to bragging.

  • Balance opinions with a growth mindset: Oftentimes, interviewers will play devil’s advocate and challenge your answer. They are testing your ability to handle pressure. At the same time, they also want to see if you are open to feedback. While adhering to your point of view shows conviction, you also need to balance that with being flexible and adaptable.

  • Ask insightful questions: For every interview, you need to prepare 2-3 insightful questions that you will ask the interviewer. This shows that you are excited about the role and truly want to learn more. Questions can be about the company, culture, team or the interviewer. “I don’t have any questions” is not a response interviewers like to hear.

This is your chance to interview the company and understand if the role/team/company is right for you!

After the Interview

  • Send thanks: Surprisingly, it is not a common practice these days but I have always appreciated the folks who did send a thank you note. While it is not expected and doesn’t impact the outcome of your interview, it is still a nice gesture to thank your recruiter and interviewers. You can pass on the message through the recruiter if you do not have direct contact information. It is also an opportunity for you to understand the timeline for next steps.

Lastly, I cannot emphasize enough of the role Confidence plays in your interviews. I really like the book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy. It is a great book that helps build your confidence, especially relevant for high stakes situations like Interviews.

For more personalized interview coaching, Contact Us to learn more about our services that build your confidence with a focus on bringing out the best in you.

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